Originating in the early 1980's, leet speak was first used by hackers as a way to prevent their websites/newsgroups from being found by simple keyword searches.
Leet speak grew and became popular in online games such as Doom in the early 1990's as a way of suggesting that you were a hacker (h4x0r), and therefore to be feared.
Leet, or 1337, is a short form of "elite," commonly used by video gamers to suggest that they are skilled.
Generally, "leet speak" is not used these days by anyone who could actually be considered "elite." Leet speak has been widely adopted by North American culture and these days is used by pretty much anyone. (Aka., n00bs.)
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